The Volkswagen Rally in the Eastern Cape on July 11/12 will see the reigning champion duo of Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton going all-out to maintain their momentum and climb up the national rally championship points log, on which they currently lie in an uncharacteristic fifth place. They’re coming off the back of a spectacular victory for the Ford Dealer Team Fiesta on the PMC Rally in late May, finally getting the win which had eluded them this year. With the seal broken – so to speak – they’re ready to do a lot more winning.
And multiple wins are their stock-in-trade: last year they won the premier S2000 class seven times – including five on the trot – to join such illustrious company as Serge Damseaux/Vito Bonafede and Sarel van der Merwe/Franz Boshoff. The former pair achieved a ‘fifer’ in 1996 and the latter in 1981 and 1985.
Their seven wins from eight rounds also equalled the record seven victories in a single season by Van der Merwe/Boshoff in 1980 and 1983 and Damseaux/Bonafede in 1995 and 1996. With the drop point championship scoring system (seven of the eight events to count) Cronje and Houghton also managed to win the 2013 championship title with the maximum number of points on offer – 175 out of a possible 175.
“Last year was a dream season for us, and even though it might have looked like we had it all our own way, it certainly wasn’t the case,” says Cronje, fresh and relaxed after some R and R in Cape Town. “There is no question that we forced the opposition to raise their game during the course of last season, and we’re seeing that again this year. The factories have thrown some really big resources at their championship efforts to keep our little privateer team at bay!”
But Cronje and Houghton take that as a huge compliment and also know that there is more to come: after the PMC rally a routine engine check revealed a broken valve, and as a precaution the full set has been replaced and the entire engine examined with a fine-tooth comb. Apart from that, the car stood up very well to the rough and dusty conditions of Gauteng, and has been refettled for the very different conditions that will be experienced in and around Uitenhage, Port Elizabeth and Jeffrey’s Bay.
“A lot has changed and there are a number of new and revised stages, so there’ll be some unknowns for everyone,” says Cronje. “In the last three years we’ve had two wins and a third in the Eastern Cape, and I also took my first overall win here in 2008 so I have a bit of a soft spot for the event!”
Cronje/Houghton start second on the road and will therefore roll down the start ramp at 12h02 on Friday afternoon and head to Greenbushes for a brand new 16-kilometre special stages which gets the 180 km event underway.